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Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums 


The international museum community shares the conviction that illegal traffic in archaeological, 
artistic, and ethnic objects must he firmly discouraged. We should, however, recognize that ohjects 
acquired in earlier times must he viewed in the light of different sensitivities and values, reflective of 
that earlier era. The ohjects and monumental works that were installed decades and even centuries ago 
in museums throughout Europe and America were acquired under conditions that are not comparable 
with current ones. 

Over time, objects so acquired — whether by purchase, gift, or partage — have become part of the 
museums that have cared for them, and by extension part of the heritage of the nations which house 
them. Today we are especially sensitive to the subject of a work’s original context, but we should not 
lose sight of the fact that museums too provide a valid and valuable context for objects that were long 
ago displaced from their original source. 

The universal admiration for ancient civilizations would not be so deeply established today were it not 
for the influence exercised by the artifacts of these cultures, widely available to an international public 
in major museums. Indeed, the sculpture of classical Greece, to take but one example, is an excellent 
illustration of this point and of the importance of public collecting. The centuries-long history of 
appreciation of Greek art began in antiquity, was renewed in Renaissance Italy, and subsequently 
spread through the rest of Europe and to the Americas. Its accession into the collections of public 
museums throughout the world marked the significance of Greek sculpture for mankind as a whole 
and its enduring value for the contemporary world. Moreover, the distinctly Greek aesthetic of these 
works appears all the more strongly as the result of their being seen and studied in direct proximity to 
products of other great civilizations. 

Calls to repatriate objects that have belonged to museum collections for many years have become an 
important issue for museums. Although each case has to be judged individually, we should 
acknowledge that museums serve not just the citizens of one nation but the people of every nation. 
Museums are agents in the development of culture, whose mission is to foster knowledge by a 
continuous process of reinterpretation. Each object contributes to that process. To narrow the focus of 
museums whose collections are diverse and multifaceted would therefore be a disservice to all 
visitors. 


Signed by the Directors of: 

The Art Institute of Chicago 

Bavarian State Museum, Munich (Alte Pinakothek, 
Neue Pinakothek) 

State Museums, Berlin 

Cleveland Museum of Art 

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles 

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 

Los Angeles County Museum of Art 

Louvre Museum, Paris 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 


The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 
The Museum of Modern Art, New York 
Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence 
Philadelphia Museum of Art 
Prado Museum, Madrid 
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam 
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg 
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid 
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 


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